11 June 2010

Sandy Furnace And It's People

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber 2010

For many years I have collected tidbits about Sandy Furnace. During a conversation with Ann Sutherland the other day, she mentioned she could recall standing at the John D. Ross Cemetery, and possibly see Sandy Furnace when she was a child. I closed my eyes to visualize the scene and together we decided if you climbed to the highest point just beyond the cemetery and looked down into the bottom lands, with the foliage gone, you probably could see remains of Sandy Furnace.

With the sun gleaming, today, I decided to see just how far the old Furnace was from John D. Ross Cemetery, located on Route 773, more commonly known as Bolts Fork Road to us locals, at the edge of Boyd County. By the road it is exactly 2.8 miles from the cemetery gate to Sandy Furnace located at 23330 Bolts Fork Road. While standing in the sun and humidity my mind began mulling over why the Kentucky Historical Marker was over 3 miles away from the actual furnace. I turned around and drove the meandering beautiful bottom farm land of Bolts Fork to Route #3 where the historical marker has been placed on the main thoroughfare. I am sure they meant well by putting it where most traffic would pass. Over the years I have practically memorized the wording knowing that besides placement of the sign, there was a much larger story.

Furnaces were prevalent in Greenup County and the northern edge of Boyd County and scattered in Carter County. But Sandy Furnace is tucked on the southern edge of the county far from the other producing furnaces. When built it was still in Lawrence County, Kentucky. Much has been written about area furnaces but very little has been compiled on Sandy Furnace. The longest general description was written in Donald Rist's publication Iron Furnaces of the Hanging Rock Iron Region in 1974. Rist had done a little more research than is posted on the Historical marker but gives the same simple basic information that the furnace was built in 1853 by Young, Foster and Company which included Dan and John Young, William Foster and Irwin Gilruth.

Interestingly both the historical marker and Rist lead one to believe that Sandy Furnace ceased operation in 1854 or shortly thereafter. This was not the case. Nor do these tiny blurbs give the general reader the feeling of just how many people in the community were involved or benefited from the Furnace. I can stand on the ridge of our farm nearly 5 miles away and see the indentations in the woods where ore was dug out. If I close my eyes I can imagine the oxen sledding the ore over the ridge, following the creek, struggling up and over Jack and finally arriving at the furnace.

The Geological Survey of 1856 talks about the ore beds being one hundred and five feet higher in the hills. It does not talk about the distance or the many farms that were tapped for the ore. According to the Survey Sandy Furnace was producing seven tons of iron in twenty-four hours and was then hauled to a depot at Catlettsburg and was "twenty-two miles, by the course of the stream, above the mouth of the East Fork of Little Sandy."

The planning and building of Sandy Furnace began in 1848. When John and Daniel Young of Hamilton County, Ohio began with mortgages on the tract of lands on Bolts Fork. William A. Foster and his son Henry were witness to the transactions. William A. Foster along with Theodore Royer began the task of buying up right of ways, timber and ore for the execution of an iron furnace. The deeds are a roll call of those families living at what would shortly be called Sandy Furnace, complete with its own post office. Lawrence County deeds were executed with Henry Morris, Thomas Coburn, William Messer, Madison Stewart, William McCormack, Ellis Taylor, William Brumfield, John D. Ross, James Prichard, William Webb and James Stanley.

John Foster had six sixteenth, Dan two sixteenth, William A. Foster three sixteenth and Irwin Gilruth three sixteenth interest in the furnace.

William A. Foster was already settled in Lawrence County and is not to be confused with William Foster, just several years his elder, who was working at the furnaces in Greenup County. Both were from Pennsylvania.

William A. Foster was settled in Lawrence County prior to the formation of Sandy Furnace. He ran for town trustee in May 1846 in Louisa but appears to not have stayed in town long. William Ely writes about William A. Foster in his Big Sandy Valley. Ely stated that William A. Foster had come to the area with a Pennsylvania Company and is "favorably known in Catlettburg" and had "first made his appearance in Sandy as store keeper for the company." The 1850 Lawrence County, Kentucky census shows William A. as a merchant along with his family including Henry who is listed as clerk and Irwin Gilruth giving occupation as a merchant from Ohio.

Theodore Royer was living in Hamilton County, Ohio in 1850 having married Elizabeth Young. He gave his occupation as a merchant and was also born in Pennsylvania. They migrated to Ann Arbor Michigan and in 1880 he gave his occupation as a retired manufacturer. Mrs. Louie Lovett [DAR #15022], Elizabeth Royer Slauson [DAR 14364], and Adaline Katharine Gross [DAR 14363] were all lineal descendants from the Royer and Young family.

Foster sold most of his interest to Young in 1850 and by 1860 was comfortably living in Catlettsburg listing his occupation as a clerk, owning property. By 1870 he lists his occupation as a retired dry goods clerk.

John Young and his wife Caroline never lived in eastern Kentucky. In 1850 They sold all their interest in Sandy Furnace to William Moore Patton which gave Patton controlling interest. Patton was born in 1803 in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. He had been involved in Vesuvius Furnace in Lawrence County, Ohio and Pennsylvania Furnace in Greenup County. He settled in Catlettsburg and the Patton's went on to own many varied concerns in the area.

Rist tells of the fall of the furnace stack in the summer of 1853 and advertisements in the Ironton Register for 25/26 stone cutters at the furnace. The 1856 Geological Survey talks of coarse sandstone which was over lower limestone "employed as hearth-stones for the furnace." By the time of WPA days there is only one known actual rock quarry in Boyd County located on this compiler's farm. Driving along the bottom land of Bolts Fork I am sure there are many hidden areas that were chiseled out and now overgrown.

By the time of the 1856 survey Patton had sold his controlling interest to William Wurts then of Hamilton County, Ohio. William along with several brothers were also from Pennsylvania and had interest in several area furnaces. A biography of William Wurts was published in Kentucky, A History of the State in 1888. Wurts lived until 1876 and died in Mason County, Kentucky.

The furnace was still active in 1859 when The Iron Manufacturers Guide to Furnaces and Forges...was written by Lesley. Lesley describes that Sandy Furnace makes a very liquid iron from the ores and that the bed was about 5 feet under sandstone "high in the hills" regarded as the "highest workable bed in Carter and Lawrence."

My active mind understands that these powerful manufacturers came into our area and created a living beyond the small poor farming interests. Some stayed like Foster and Patton. Some left legacies in our area and across the river in the iron region of Ohio.

It was hard labor intensive work from the cutting of timber to the digging of ore. The feat of hauling the raw goods to the furnace and the final product taken to the terminals had to be grueling. Stone masons were needed and furnace hands were in demand, animals had to be maintained, all of which helped put food on the table in the Bolts Fork area. A community was created and the deeds that purchased the timber and ore rights are more descriptive than any other historical local document of the time.

The furnace is fallen in now, hidden by a modern home built directly in front of it. Standing in the sun in the middle of Bolts Fork Road, quiet all around, not a person in sight, yet the history is so loud I can hear it. Close your eyes maybe you can share the view with me.


  1. I've done some research on the various furncaes in the area over the years. I have the following tid bit on Sandy Furnace, found in:
    The Iron Manufacturer's Guide to the Furnaces, Forges and Rolling Mills of the United States, by J. P. Lesley, (J. Peter), American Iron and Steel Association; New York, John Wiley, publisher; London, Trubner & Co., 1859, p. 126
    "Sandy Steam Hot-blast Charcoal Furnace, owned by William Wurtz of Cincinnati, managed by J. S. Jones, Boltsfork P.O. Lawrence county Kentucky, and situated on Bolt's creek five miles west of Big Sandy ten miles east of Star Furnace 537, was built in 1849, 10 feet across the bosh by 32 feet high and made in 1854 about 1,000 tons and nothing since out of lower coal measure refractory ores."

  2. Thanks Marlitta I should have given the full citation when I quoted Lesley 4th paragraph from bottom.

  3. What a wonderfully interesting post! I feel so much more "enlightened" now. Really! Thank you for sharing this! I am always in awe of the things I learn reading blogs!